The Truth About Sunscreen

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Marketing often leads consumers to believe that sunscreen is a summer skin care essential, however, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), sunscreen should be your last resort.  There is a huge discrepancy between what people think they should be doing for their skin and what is actually safest and healthiest. While some types of sunscreen are safe, many sunscreens are actually harmful.

Two Types of Sunscreen

Let’s start with a little bit of Sunscreen 101.  There are two types of sunscreen, each of which has its own unique way of protecting your skin from the sun:

#1 Chemical Sunscreens: These sunscreens rely on chemicals to “protect” your skin from the sun.  These chemicals often include one or more of the following: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. 

#2 Mineral Sunscreens:  Have you ever seen a beach goer whose skin is slathered with a white substance that makes them resemble Casper the Ghost? These people are most likely wearing a sunscreen made of minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier from the sun.

The Dirty Truth About Chemical Sunscreens

The chemicals used in most mainstream sunscreens have been researched extensively by the EWG and their findings reveal that many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors and may interfere with thyroid and other hormones functions in the body.   The most common chemical used in sunscreens, Oxybenzone, is an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to lowered sperm count in men and endometriosis in women.  The EWG advises consumers, especially women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, to avoid this chemical.   What’s even more concerning is that of the thousands of sunscreens tested by the EWG, 40% are listed as potential contributors to skin cancer.

What?!  You mean, the same sunscreen that we are using to protect ourselves from the sun’s potentially damaging rays can actually have the opposite effect? How could that be possible?

For starters, the vitamin A derivative that is often used in chemical sunscreens has been shown to speed up cancer cell growth by 21%.  In addition, most sunscreens block your body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D- and Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher risk of cancer and heart disease.

A Safer Alternative

While mineral sunscreens are generally considered a safer option, not all of these sunscreens are created equal.  Some of them are made with chemicals that have the same risks as mainstream sunscreens. Additionally, these sunscreens may contain nanoparticles, microscopic particles of zinc oxide or titanium oxide.  While nanoparticles do help avoid the “chalk” factor of mineral sunscreens, they can also cause harm by absorbing into your blood stream and causing oxidative stress, inflammation and DNA mutation.  You can avoid the "chalk factor" of natural sunscreens by opting for a non-nano tinted version, which is specially formulated to blend in with your skin tone.  We like Badger Balm's tinted sunscreen or Josh Rosebrook’s Tinted Nutrient Day Cream with SPF. These both slide on smoothly and evenly without leaving a chalky residue.

Avoiding Sunscreen All Together

As we’ve already shared above, according to the EWG, sunscreen should be your last resort.  Here are a few things that you can do to minimize or eliminate your need for sunscreen:

  • Cover Up: Clothing and hats protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays and reduce risk by 27%.
  • Seek Solace in the Shade: “Set up shop” under a tree or an umbrella.  Staying shaded can reduce your risk for burn by 30%. 
  • Wear your Shades: Sun glasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
  • Avoid Peak Sun: Plan to be indoors when the sun’s rays are strongest, between the hours of 10am and 2pm.
  • Check the UV Index: The UV index provides important information that can help you identify the safest times to spend time outdoors.

To Sum It All Up

The sun is not our enemy.  In fact, the suns’ rays are essential in helping our body manufacture Vitamin D, which plays an important role in disease prevention.  The bottom line is that too much peak sun can be harmful.  The good news is that overexposure to the sun is very simple and easy to avoid by covering up, staying in the shade, wearing sunglasses and avoid peak sun.  And for those beachy summer days when basking in the sun is unavoidable, opt for a mineral non-nano sunscreen.